Dawn of a New Day (Part II) – Mikko von Hertzen of Von Hertzen Brothers

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It’s a pleasant spring evening in one of the up and coming, trendier areas of North London and Ghost Cult is enjoying a coffee and a chinwag with Mikko Von Hertzen of von Hertzen Brothers. Our discussion takes in musical choices, ditching b-sides, ambition, being on the road and, of course the new record, New Day Rising (Spinefarm)…

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New Day Rising also marked a change for the band in terms of recording and production duties. The new album was the first that the band had recorded outside of their native Finland, a decision that Markko explains was entirely purposeful:

Well, look, there’s no one who doesn’t know us in Finland. Everyone has an opinion on us. We felt that as a band we needed someone who was new, who would listen but who would challenge us. So we chose Garth (Richardson, producer of Rage Against the Machine, RHCP, Crue and literally 100s of others). He was cool. He looks at music from a very different perspective from us. We look at music as artists and composers. He is more of a consumer of music.

He knows what works and what doesn’t work from the perspective of the listener and that is very valuable for us. He was good in saying “Hey, that vocal isn’t right, that guitar part is too loud, or not loud enough, that section doesn’t work”. We needed that.

 

I wondered how that might work in practice with the brothers all being effective songwriters and all having strong opinions about how the record might work. Mikko explains:

Garth brought discipline for sure but he also was good at distilling the songs to what they really were. He stopped everyone pulling the songs apart! He also ensured everyone had time and space to do their parts without interference so he was an effective manager of that too.

 

New Day Rising is also striking in terms of its brevity-its ten songs come and go in what feels like a heartbeat. Mikko walks me through the editing process:

Doing the record in Vancouver we actually recorded 16 songs, ten of which ended up on the album. To be honest, we felt that some of the songs just were not as good as they could have been, so they got left out. There were times when something didn’t quite click in the recording, or we didn’t feel that the song worked 100% so we decided to have a session – the band, our producer, manager and engineer;  8 people. We and we sat down and decided “Ok, these 10 we will keep.”

We then worked on those songs that were left – I guess you would refer to these as our B-side s- with the record engineering students at the complex where we were laying the album down to give them some first-hand experience of what it’s like to work with a real band.

 

I suggest to Mikko that listening to the album is a bit like listening to a vinyl album where there are two sides with ‘Dreams’ being the “turn the record over” point. He pauses for a brief moment before agreeing

Exactly! That’s how we think! Whether this way of listening to music is so deeply ingrained in us I don’t know, but that’s what we wanted to do. We knew early in that the record was going to be versatile but the sequencing of the album is deliberate in that it takes you on a trip.

So, for example, the placing of ‘Dreams’ is absolutely purposeful. It’s like “Bang!” – onto the next part of the journey. Equally we ditched the idea that the record needed to sound a particular way. Basically if we think a song is good enough it goes in. We don’t care whether it is in keeping with any “theme”. What I mean is, we don’t consciously look to take a song and feel obliged to make it more metal by adding more heavy guitars or more prog by adding additional musical parts to it. the song just needs to be.

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This sense of artistic freedom coupled with a self-belief (but not arrogance) has seen the Von Hertzen Brothers grow their level of support in a very impressive manner but, as Mikko expands, the band remain resolutely ambitious:

Look, in this band there is a lot of talent! he laughs, although you know that there is more than a kernel of truth in this: We knew that if we want to take this band further we have to make a record that is as good as Coldplay or U2 or Foo Fighters. It doesn’t matter what band you choose but, you know, that league. We need to be in that league sonic wise, song-writing wise, the whole thing. All of this has to be as good as the very best.

I’m not sure we are there but we are trying to make that step up. We wanted to do something that would appeal as something fresh, even now at album number six. We have ambition. Not to have wealth or be famous, but musically. We really want to improve and take our listeners by surprise by what we are doing: we want people to say “Wow! This is their best record! each and every time we do something new.

 

It’s evident that for all their experience to date that this remains a band as hungry today as they were on day one; from arguing over the setlists (“choosing for the festivals is going to be a fucking nightmare” apparently), to worrying about whether anyone will turn up to see them on tour, you’re left with one abiding reflection – if there was one band that you would hope would make it into the big time, you could do a lot worse that hope for these guys.

At the heart of this band is a collective joy at making music, a confidence in what they do but a band who have roots and values and principles.

We are Prog says Mikko as we part our ways. Despite how straightforward this new record is, we are still a prog band. That’s never going away.

 

Who says nice guys can’t finish first?

 

Von Hertzen Brothers on Facebook

 

MAT DAVIES

Dawn of a New Day – Mikko von Hertzen of Von Hertzen Brothers

 

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It’s a pleasant spring evening in one of the up and coming, trendier areas of North London and Ghost Cult is enjoying a coffee and a chinwag with Mikko Von Hertzen of Von Hertzen Brothers. Our discussion takes in musical choices and, of course the new record, New Day Rising (Spinefarm)…

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“It’s YOU, isn’t it?” A 30-something woman looks somewhat star struck, gazing at the man stood next to me. “You’re the SINGER aren’t you?” My tall, elegant companion is polite enough to acknowledge that, indeed, he is the singer and it is, after all, him. The singer in question is Mikko Von Hertzen, lead vocalist with Finland’s finest rock band, the Von Hertzen Brothers and this, dear readers, is what being a rock star is all about; meeting and greeting fans and generally being far too cool for school.

Mikko poses for photos, takes hugs that go on ever so slightly too long and then it’s down to the business of meeting the media. Well, in this case, your humble Ghost Cult scribe. It’s a pleasant spring evening in one of the up and coming, trendier areas of North London and we are enjoying a coffee and a chinwag with Mikko, right at the start of the band’s UK tour in support of their latest and, perhaps, greatest record to date – the fresh and spiky New Day Rising (Spinefarm).

The seemingly inexorable rise of the Von Hertzen Brothers from hardworking studio grafters following in their father’s footsteps to feted cult progressives and now into internationally acclaimed rock band looks probably more swanlike to the outsider than the actually reality of matters for the band, but Mikko seems relaxed ahead of this leg of their European tour.

 

It’s 4 weeks to the day since New Day Rising came out. How have you felt about the reaction to it?

I feel good, man. Although it’s been out for only a month, we had the record ready since mid-November last year so, yeah, this is a case of living in your own shit for quite a while before you can get the record out!  When you’re doing international releases like this one you need a long lead time for all the teams to be ready, to do the planning of the release – the marketing and so on.

As artists, of course there were moments when we we’re thinking “Is this too far to the mainstream?” or “Is this too rock or too pop?”, but this last month it’s been very encouraging. Our fans love this record and it’s been pleasing because, in addition to that, we have been able to gain a lot of new territories, new audiences. There are people who are looking at us for the first time, taking an interest in what we are doing, wanting to review the album, interview us for the first time so, yeah, it’s been a good few weeks.

Personally, I was hesitant about the album around Christmas time but now I feel very confident about the album being good, and it’s been fun to work the last month with better crowds than we had for the Nine Lives (also Spinefarm) tour.

If truth be known, everything feels like we are riding a bit of a wave…..

 

How do you deal with the pressure of having all these expectations on you – the production teams, marketing, management and so on demanding new songs? Does that affect you at all?

It doesn’t affect me that much to be honest. When I am writing songs, I am only thinking about the songs and I don’t really think about whether people are going to like it, but I do put a huge pressure on myself to want to pull something out that is good, to find new ways of doing things, to bring out new ideas for songs. Of course, we then have the discussions about what songs should be the arrowhead for the new record, are we going to go with a rock song, a pop song, a prog song…

Because we do all of that…

 

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Indeed they do. New Day Rising is striking for its diversity of styles yet, running through it all has also been a straightforward approach that has perhaps only been hinted at on previous releases. Our conversation moves on to the band’s musical diversity and its effect on their relationship with their dedicated and knowledgeable fan base. In particular, the UK prog scene has been a particular champion of the band’s work. I wondered whether there was a risk that they might alienate their following and, in effect, inadvertently end up biting the hand that fed them. Mikko is reflective:

I think that we might be going through a cycle, he explains. Let’s look back at where this band has come from. The first album was, if you will, a bud that we…. probably…. took too early: it wasn’t a flower in bloom. It was an idea. It wasn’t a fully formed idea but we just went with it, you know? The second and third records were the Prog records where we nailed it but, and I have said this before, I don’t just want to do an another Approach (Dynasty).

We want to find something new, do something different. The reality is we like different types of music. We’re not just prog heads who like just Dream Theater and Pink Floyd. We love Abba. We love Dire Straits.

This love of different things was ingrained in us from a very early age from the stuff that was played in the family home. In some ways, the new stuff is often a reaction to the older stuff so this album especially we have reached the point where we have become the most straightforward as we are likely to.

It’s all about simple structures, simple rock songs or pop songs. It might be that the reaction to that will be an out and out  prog record!

 

His smile is genuine and genuinely mischievous as he says it.

 

von Hertzen Brothers on Facebook

 

 

MAT DAVIES

Von Hertzen Brothers – New Day Rising

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I suppose that fifteen years is quite a long time but, for your average music fan, the Von Hertzen Brothers represent something of a “new” thing. Certainly, the band’s recent success is testimony to the benefit of hard work; it’s also testimony to the fact that as they have honed their art so it has become increasingly accessible. New Day Rising (Spinefarm) is unquestionably their most accessible record to date and will, as sure as night follows day, ensure a wider audience and even greater success for this most agreeable of Finnish bands. It’s a record packed to the rafters with ideas; if truth be known, probably a few too many.

Matters get off to what can only be described as a rip roaring start with the title track throwing down the gauntlet: it’s sprightly and full of chutzpah, an energetic tour de force. You get the impression of a band comfortable in their skin and ready to take us on new musical adventures with gusto. ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ lightens the frenetic pace somewhat but the straightforward rock style is maintained in earnest. ‘Trouble’ is initially disingenuous with its soft opening, soon breaking out into an expansive number and a clear progression from the album’s opening two cuts. So far, so very agreeable.

The brakes come on for the melancholy of ‘Black Rain’, which has a nice gentle melody that supports the mood of reflection and introspection.  ‘Hold Me Up’ is, make no mistake, Coldplay through a Helsinki misty rain, and is as arch and contrived as that sounds. It’s a self-consciously “big” ballad and I’m not sure it works: if someone said it was Finland’s Eurovision entry, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. I don’t actively dislike it but it jars the overall tenor of the record.

One of the interesting things about Von Hertzen Brothers has been their fearlessness in trying something new and different, keeping the listener on their proverbial toes and demanding your undivided attention. Despite the relatively straightforward nature of New Day Rising, the quirky nature of ‘Dreams’ demonstrates that this sense of gentle provocation remains firmly in place. It’s quirky and fun, lightweight and unassuming.

‘Sunday Child’ is much more serious stuff, and whilst the Coldplay echoes and sense of impending drama remain leitmotifs there’s also a whiff of Biffy Clyro invading the melody giving it a sense of defiance in its melancholic timbre. ‘The Destitute’ is much more traditional Von Hertzen fare, with a glitzy bassline that recalls U2’s Berlin period. Again, like much of the record it dashes and dances through pace and time signatures as all Prog records tend to but, despite what appears to be wilful exuberance, the core song holds its own. The album coda, ‘Hibernating Heart’ brings the pace and mood down again: an archetypal reflection of times past, of mistakes made, it’s a heartfelt and impassioned ballad and a more than decent sign off.

New Day Rising is an album of progress and advance from the Von Hertzen Brothers: there are some brilliant new songs that build on a growing reputation. However, it’s a record that also has a few jarring moments and, weirdly, too many ideas for its own good. What we’re left with is a very good record but not a nailed on classic. Greatness though is surely round the corner. As it stands, less would, in this instance, have probably been more.

 

7.5/10

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MAT DAVIES